Photography + Pin Board = Pinterest
Ben’s success as an entrepreneur can be proven by the number of recognitions he has won throughout his career. Ben is a recipient of the Tenyck and Crunchie Awards, two different recognitions that showcase his extraordinary talent in the world of technology and business. Ben’s creation, Pinterest, has also received recognitions, such as winning the Webby Award for Best Social Media App and the People’s Voice Award for Best Functioning Visual Design.
Ben is often named as one of the youngest geniuses in the world for his creation of Pinterest, which has piqued the interest of literally tens of millions of people. It takes someone with extraordinary imagination and innovative qualities to transform a simple pin board into one of the most sought-after services in the planet. Through Pinterest, Ben has shown an amazing ability of creating a need out of something so trivial. As Ben says it, Pinterest’s idea is to “help people discover things that they did not know they want.”
But what really makes Ben so extraordinary is his positive attitude and relentless spirit. In the online business, there is no limit to how many ideas one can present, thus creating a very slim chance of getting that idea to work out. When Pinterest was first released, the results were not as promising as Ben and his team had expected, but this did not get him to quit. Instead, Ben kept on moving forward, taking what he can learn from the unsuccessful tries and used it to improve his creation. Because of this amazing attitude, Ben has successfully grown his company into heights that most of us can only dream of.
One of the things that have made Ben successful in his career is his attitude towards the importance of focus. For Ben, it is not the amount of ideas that you can lay down in the table that is really important—just like a fine piece of sculpture, it is all about removing the things that are not relevant, leaving only those that would make the masterpiece perfect. This has been Ben’s day to day activity with his team in Pinterest since the beginning. In an interview, Ben states:
“At a small company, so much of the trick is focus. Not only can you only do a finite number of things, but you have to do them in the right order. So we actively try to remove things that take away focus from things that are really important.”
Ben’s life started out simple, but he did not allow it to remain that way. Ben Silbermann was born in the early eighties to parents Neil Silbermann and Jane Wang, who both worked as ophthalmologists. As a young kid growing in Des Moines, Iowa, Ben was considered a prodigy by his family and friends. In school, Ben exhibited astounding traits of intelligence and aptitude for technology, which further developed throughout the years of growth through the encouragement of his parents.
Even at a very young age, Ben was already intrigued by technology. In the late eighties, when technological advancements were developing at a fast pace, Ben often spent his time studying newer inventions while his friends were playing outside. During his high school years, in the mid-nineties, Ben got interested in the Internet (which was introduced by the early nineties and was still in its infantile stage) and saw the vast potential that it had. After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1999, Ben applied at Yale University to study education with a major in political science. He graduated in 2003 and earned his bachelor’s degree.
After graduating, Ben applied for a job at Google Incorporated and was hired in the company’s online sales and operations. While Ben wanted to work with the Google’s development and engineering division, his lack of an engineering degree could not get him there. And so, after some time working with Google, Ben eventually decided to resign to pursue a career of his own. In an interview regarding Ben’s decision to leave Google, he said:
“I left, not because I didn’t love the company, but because of my particular background, it would have been really hard to build products. I kind of think of engineering like the chefs at a restaurant... Nobody’s going to deny chefs are integrally important, but there’s also so many other people who contribute to a great meal.”
Making a New Start: From Tote’s Failure to Pinterest’s Success
Not long after he left Google, Ben met up with Paul Sciarra, a college friend who also shared the same interest in developing technology. Both Ben and Paul started experimenting on iPhone apps and eventually came up with Tote, a shopping app. Unfortunately though, Tote failed to sell online and was greatly shunned by iPhone lovers, leaving the creators with a great deal of disappointment.
In spite of this initial setback, Ben and Paul did not get discouraged from further developing online software. Using Tote as the basis for the new design of the new service they were creating, Ben and Paul decided to add the ability to “pin” things on it, like a physical pin board. This concept was inspired by the idea of letting people “show” their interests instead of “saying” them, after realizing that a lot of users in Facebook and Twitter did not really play with words a lot. Ben stated this in an interview made with him years later:
“Most people don’t have anything witty to say on Twitter or anything gripping to put on Facebook, but a lot of them are really interesting people. They have awesome taste in books or furniture or design, but there was no way to share that.”
Soon enough, Ben and Paul finished the website service, and Pinterest was born.
Pinterest’s success story was quite a struggle initially. It was a long and hard-fought battle to the top, and there were very little indications that the company would go national at the start. Nine months after Pinterest’s release, the site only had ten thousand users, which greatly disappointed Ben as these were not the numbers he was expecting to get.
In spite of these disappointing results, Ben did not give up on working on Pinterest. Partly, the reason why Ben did not decide to give up was his fear of being embarrassed in announcing that the product he was developing failed to sell. Ben stated in an interview:
“The idea of telling everyone we blew it was so embarrassing. I thought, 'Google is never going to take me back—they barely hired me the first time!”
Moving Forward: Pinterest Increases Ben’s Net Worth
But aside from this, what really got Ben back into the game was his unyielding desire to see Pinterest become a successful product. After his experience with Tote, Ben decided that he will never stop until he sees Pinterest become a success, and did everything he can to make this happen. Along with Paul, Ben continued to tinker the site and app, learning more about how to improve it and using his previous experiences to make the service better. There was no stopping Ben. Whenever he looked at Pinterest, he did not see failure—he saw all the things that could be done to make the site more attractive and useful to its users. Ben said in an interview:
“There's this simultaneous joy and shame when looking at your own product. You just see all of the things you want to make better.”
Ben was right about sticking with his product. By June 2011, Pinterest started getting more attention online, and by the end of the year had more than twice the number of users Ben was expecting the service to get. And so, Ben kept on improving the site so it could attend to more users; by 2012, Pinterest got so much popularity that it reached over 15 million users in a span of two and a half years. Today, Pinterest is one of the world’s most visited sites, and has attracted over 20 million users that greatly appreciate a service that allows them to showcase their passions and interests in ways that words could not say.
Although Ben has indeed achieved so much success, he does not see this as a reason to get stagnant and stop improving. Currently, Ben works with his team of almost 30 people in making sure that more improvements are made to help cater the various needs and preferences of Pinterest’s users. And while Ben knows that there are more challenges coming in the future, he keeps his head up, knowing full well that when these challenges come, he will have the strength of will and determination to overcome them.
Ben + Divya = Happily Ever After
Ben’s personal life can be matched with the success he is experiencing today. Ben is married to Divya Bhaskaran, a graduate of biomechanics and biomedical engineering from the University of Tennessee. Divya bore Ben a son named Max, whom Ben loves dearly. As a father and a husband, Ben does not let the stress of his work get to him; he ensures that he is balanced, devoting time for his family.
There are a lot of things that we can learn about Ben’s life, but the one that really makes him an extraordinary person is his determination to succeed in spite of the seemingly overwhelming circumstances and disappointments. In a way, Ben was able to turn his fear of embarrassment into something positive that fueled his desire to see his creation become a success. Like us, Ben had the chance to quit and stay stagnant, but he refused to do so and achieved so much as a result.
“It's exciting that people care a lot but then you also feel this weight of responsibility. You brought this little thing into the world, you want to see it get better.”
Awards and Achievements
- 2012: Received the Crunchie Award
- 2012: Received the Webby Award for Best Social Media App (Pinterest)
- 2012: Received the People’s Voice Award for Best Functioning Visual Design (Pinterest)
- Received the Tenyck Award
- Won the Yale 50K Business Plan Competition